We recently ran an article where ABAP expert Rehan Zaidi shared some best practices for breaking into professional SAP application development. But more information is always better, so we checked in with Matthew Billingham, our resident ABAP guru on the Ask the Expert panel, to see if he had anything to add. Here’s what he had to say about ABAP job prospects, certification programs and getting your foot in the SAP door.
ABAP certification only demonstrates that a certain level of knowledge has been achieved. It does not give any indication of how to apply that knowledge, and certainly does not demonstrate that the certificate holder has any ability at the generic art of programming. If I was recruiting a trainee developer, then certification would be a plus, because I’d have some assurance that they at least could talk using some of the same terms as me. But the value of real-life experience quickly overtakes any certification; if you can show two or more years of good results, whether you have certification or not is completely irrelevant.
Breaking into the field
That leads us to the next issue: Getting your foot in the door. As you probably know, this is and always has been the hardest part of the SAP world. The best bet as a newbie is to go through a consultancy. Or, if you’ve already got some commercial skill, finding a company that uses that skill but also uses SAP, and angle for some cross training. ABAP is different from many programming languages in that it doesn’t just sit in a vacuum, waiting for applications to be developed. The applications are already there – in the shape of the classic R/3 modules, BW, SEM etc. Our job is to make those applications do more than originally designed by SAP. That requires understanding of those applications; the data structures, the flows etc. And you only get that through hands-on experience.
Business vs. technical SAP
Historically in SAP, the technical side and business side have been seperate. This is unlike much of the rest of the IT industry, which spawned such roles as the “Analyst Programmer” to have people who could do the technical side, and yet still communicate with the business. A programmer who doesn’t appreciate commercial concerns won’t go far within SAP. An understanding of business processes – or at least, a willingness to understand them – is key to be able to provide the customer with what they need. For clients to productively use the newer tools, such as Visual Composer, they’ll need people with development skills (programming is programming regardless of whether you use a GUI or an editor to write the program) – but these people will have to have business knowledge. I think the paradigm of “Analyst Programmer” has finally made its way into SAP!
Two distinctive traits of good ABAP professionals
In the past five years, I regret to say that while the number of developers has increased in the SAP world, my experience is that the percentage of those that are “good programmers” has declined. And so have the expectations from the more business-oriented part of the industry. Generally, I think we developers don’t have a good reputation. The tendency is to write code that works on day one. Few care what happens on day two. If you want to make a career out of SAP development, rather than just using it as the entry to becoming a functional consultant or manager, then I think you’ll need some distinctive traits to put you ahead of the majority of your programming colleagues. The first of those traits is a deep understanding of business, commercial realities and processes. The second trait is knowing the art of careful program design, so that when your programs need to be changed, you can do so quickly and easily, without introducing more bugs. Keep your focus on these traits, get as much real-life experience as you can, and you’ll be on track for a bright ABAP future.